what the fish

Up until two weeks ago I hadn’t eaten fish since I was fifteen years old. I always felt that vegetarians who ate fish were cheating, so when I gave up red meat and chicken I figured I needed to give up fish too. I was nervous about class today because of how torturous I found the poultry class yesterday. I feel less badly for fish than I do for chickens though. Fish is also extremely healthy for us to eat, however it’s associated with a lot of environmental issues due to overfishing and aquaculture. While my ethical reasons are not that strong for abstaining from fish, the environmental concerns definitely are an issue for me. Morals aside, I was able to handle filleting the fish so I wanted to be a good sport and try what we created.

Check out this flounder, it’s eves are both on one side! Did you know that flounders start out as round fish when they are hatched and have eyes on either side of their head and swim normally, but as they mature they start swimming sideways along the bottom of the ocean and one of their eyes drifts over to the top. So weird, right?

The chef demoed how to make poached salmon steak (served here with Hollandaise sauce).

Roasted monkfish… Monkfish is a super ugly fish that is considered the “poor man’s lobster” because it has a similar flavor to lobster yet is much less pricey. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the texture of this fish or it’s gross slimy skin.

This is what monkfish looks like: (check out those teeth!)

Flounder papillote with salmon mousse filling

Pan-seared branzino and flounder

Salt crusted baked fish

I forgot what kind of fish this was but it looked so sad with its big eyes and pouty mouth as it was getting covered in salt so i had to take a pic.

Seared tuna (so good!)

And cod fritters. These were delicious, basically because I could just taste fried dough. When isn’t anything fried tasty?

Again, I’m happy I tried out all the fish and now know how to prepare it in various ways but I’m not sure how often I want to incorporate fish into my diet. After going without it for so long my body felt kind of off after class, it was like all the energy had been drained out of me. Perhaps the high protein and fat content was making my body work extra hard to digest. Is it possible to be a vegan that sometimes eats fish?

After class ended there was a book signing at my school for Chloe Coscarelli’s new cookbook, Chloe’s Kitchen. I’ve been following Chloe’s blog since she won Cupcake Wars and it was really exciting to meet her in person! Chloe went to the Natural Gourmet Institute as well so it was nice to meet someone successful and get some tips from her.

Plus the mini vegan cupcakes they served were DELICIOUS!

I actually made her pancake recipe for dinner. Normally I would go with something more savory and protein-packed for dinner, but after all that fish I wanted something sweet and easy to digest. These were the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten, they were so fluffy and tasty especially smothered in almond butter!

I need to go shower now because I smell like fish. See ya tomorrow!

pollo pollo

Today was poultry day at the Natural Gourmet Institute. As a vegetarian of seven years, I was feeling apprehensive about participating in the preparation of chicken but I also wanted to learn the proper techniques in cooking poultry so that I would be able to do it in a future job if necessary.

Watching the instructor clean and “dress” the chicken by cutting it up into pieces was a little nauseating. I kept picturing the little chicken running around… Did you know the average chicken only lives 3-5 months? If they are allowed to mature the meat become less tender. Worse than watching the chef hack through bones with his knife was doing it myself. I had no idea chicken carcasses were still so bloody when you bought them from the store, and that when you purchase whole chickens they come with a little baggie filled with their organs. My chicken had three hearts, that’s genetic modification at it’s best (actually it was organic chicken and probably only had one heart in reality but somehow 3 ended up in my organ bag). I never want to have to work with chicken, or any meat again! At least now I can say that I have the ability to de-bone a chicken, even if I would prefer not to.

We made roast chicken

Broiled Pesto Chicken (I made the pesto!)

Chicken Biryani

Chicken Tenders in Peanut Sauce

Pan-Roasted Chicken with a Mushroom and White Wine Sauce

Chicken Piccata

and Chicken Salad

I did not taste any of the fruits of todays labors but I brought home a doggy bag for Dan. He loves meat and always complains about my vegan food! He said the chicken tender was the best because of the peanut sauce. I did try that peanut sauce and it was AMAZING! I think I’m going to recreate it this weekend and put it on top of some noodles and tofu.

While today was not my favorite class of my culinary program so far, I learned a lot from the experience. I had wondered if I was ready to add more animal protein into my diet again but now I realize that I can’t emotionally handle it and probably never will. The chef commented how I had such great willpower to resist the food today, but honestly I think it would have taken more willpower to eat it. I’m still on the fence about fish but I will get a chance to revisit it tomorrow when we have our Fin Fish Practicum!

Getting Saucy

The past couple of days have been all about sauce at the Natural Gourmet Institute. First we made stocks on Monday which was less than thrilling but necessary none-the-less since stocks are the basis to many soups, stews and sauces. Sauces are an integral part of a menu and really bump of the sex appeal of a dish. A plain old chicken breast with a side of veggies can be made so much sexier by adding a delicious and colorful sauce.

I agree that a sauce can make or break a meal but they can be a bitch to work with, especially when you try to veganize them. On Tuesday I was working on a vegan Bechamel sauce with almond milk instead of regular, and the almond milk thickened up so quickly that my sauce was like paste. I ended up altering the texture later on with more almond milk but it was a temperamental recipe for sure.

The pictures have not been too exciting but I snapped some to share.

We had a few alterations on traditional pesto including Parsely Pumpkin and Min Pistachio. I really liked both of these but I think the Basil Walnut variation we made was still my favorite.

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A yummy Leek Asparagus Coulis served over asparagus.

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Parsnip Coulis (I made this one! It contains fresh almond milk that I strained myself!)

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A vegan Corn Hollandaise (looks like Hollandaise but tastes like corn.)

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Carrot-beet Sauce which looks and acts like tomato sauce but is good for people who don’t like tomatoes or want to avoid their high acidity.

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I have to dash to class but I’m leaving you with a picture of a box.Image

Soy to the World

In the words of one of my classmates, “We have been farting all week.” Soy can cause digestive discomfort and a lot of us have been feeling it this week since we learned how to make and prepare tofu and tempeh dishes.

Thursday’s class consisted of a lecture on soy and a demonstration where we saw how soymilk and tofu were made. I used to eat a lot of tofu (1-2 blocks a week) but I’m trying to branch out and eat more diverse forms of protein so I’ve been eating a lot more beans and eggs. Tofu is great but I think it’s best in moderation.

It’s surprisingly easy to make tofu and the flavor of freshly made tofu was so superior that I might start doing it myself. This was the tofu that the Chef made during the demo, it was AMAZING!

He then dressed it up and made teriyaki tofu and miso-marinated tofu. Did you know that miso is made from soybeans?

We also had miso-marinated salmon, which was really awesome. I took a half piece since I have been vegetarian and not eaten fish since I was 15 years old. After the first bite I immediately put the second half on my plate, it was that good! What have I been missing all this time?

Yesterday, we got to try our hand at our own tofu and tempeh dishes. I worked on a recipe for Tofu Burgers that turned out really well. A lot of my classmates said they couldn’t even tell there was tofu in it. As our class is getting deeper into the program we are cooking better and better stuff (obviously) so our little lunches after cooking are getting so good!

 

We also had tempeh sausages.

Barbecue tofu.

Tempeh Scalloppini (both with red and white wine sauces)

Tempeh Kebobs (these were my favorite!)

And Family-Style Bean Curd

SO. MUCH. SOY. I love tofu but if I see another piece of it this weekend I might lose it!

I’m on a (sushi) roll.

Wednesday’s class was all about sea vegetables! You may be thinking, “What’s so exciting about seaweed?” but let me tell you… EVERYTHING!

Sea vegetables are very high in minerals and essential micronutrients that are very beneficial to us. They can help to detoxify the body, stabilize blood sugar, strengthen hair and nails and reduce bloat, as well as having the potential to do many other great things for our bodies. Seaweed is very versatile and is used in salads, soups, main dishes and even desserts. Did you know that seaweed is one of the main ingredients in ice cream? Next time you take that pint of choco choco chip out the freezer check if the ingredient caragheen is listed. IT’S SEAWEED, FOOLS!

While Japan is the country most commonly associated with seaweed, sea vegetables can be found along coastlines around the world, including the Pacific Northwest and Maine. Dulse is red seaweed commonly found in Ireland and my ancestral homeland of Scotland!

If fun facts about seaweed don’t keep you riveted to your seat, check out these pictures of what we did with seaweed! (Hint: it starts with an “S” and ends with “ushi”)

Our sushi assembly line!

The Chef's beautiful sushi creation.

My sushi!

My sushi that didn't quite make it...

My classmate Kara's awesome sushi!

Miso soup with wakame seaweed.

Coconut lime "custard" made with agar agar and kuzu! (and maple coated pecans) SO GOOD!

That custard was so good I couldn’t believe it. No one would ever know it was made with seaweed! I saved my sushi and ate it for dinner and it was really tasty even if it wasn’t rolled perfectly… Making sushi was much easier than I thought and something I would really like to do more of at home. I gotta run to class but stay tuned for tomorrow’s post which will be all about SOY!

hail seitan

Yesterday was seitan day at the Natural Gourmet Institute. As a long time vegetarian, I have tried seitan before but I’ve never made it at home. You can buy premade seitan in health food stores but we made it from scratch and it was super labor intensive. Basically, seitan has two ingredients, flour and water. After a lot of kneading and rinsing, you are left with the wheat gluten which is pure protein. 3 oz of seitan has the same amount of protein as 3 oz of steak with 70 fewer calories, 10 fewer grams of fat (only 1.5!) and zero cholesterol. It’s a great source of meatless protein and has been used in Asia for centuries!

Can I just tell you that seitan is not worth all the work put into it? Kneading it and rinsing it in ice-cold water is torturous and the amount of seitan produced is not enough to warrant putting myself through that. Needless to say, our entire class was exhausted by the end of the day (even though my feet felt pretty great because of my new shoes!). We made seitan from scratch and then made various different recipes to explore the potential of “wheat-meat.”

Two kinds of stew:

There were also seitan sandwiches and seitan burgers that I didn’t manage to get a picture of. My favorites were the seitan Bordelaise in the white wine sauce and the Indian kebabs. Seitan is pretty good; it is the most meat-like of meat substitutes but I find the texture kind of rubbery and definitely not worth making it from scratch!

Today is SEA VEGETABLE DAY! I ❤ seaweed!!!

Cool Beans

I LOVE BEANS.

I always end up buying canned beans because I could never get the hang of making dried beans on the stovetop. They always came out weird! After yesterday’s Bean Practicum I can honestly say that I don’t think cooking beans will ever be a problem for me again.

On Wednesday we had a bean “demo” so we have had two days of eating copious amounts of beans and my body is definitely feeling it. Before I started at NGI, I was less aware of how different foods made me feel but now that I am more educated about food in general I have been paying more attention to how my body reacts to the things I ingest. Beans are great and super healthy, but eating a lot of beans in the middle of the afternoon makes me feel very sluggish for the rest of the evening. Something about the complex carbs just makes me want to nap! I love my beans, but maybe from now on I will consume them in moderation.

For the bean practicum, our class was divided into three groups that each tackled the same five bean recipes using different beans as the main ingredient. For example, each group made a bean stew. My group (the “Lima Lions”) made a bean stew with lima beans while the other groups (the “Pinto Ponies” and the “Kidney Kings”) used pinto and kidney beans.

Since our group had five people we each were responsible for one recipe. I chose the lima bean stew recipe and it was the most delicious of all the stews (not that I’m biased or anything…). I definitely want to recreate this recipe at home, it was so easy and used only a few ingredients!

Stews are not the prettiest entrees but they sure are tasty. Our group also made a bean salad with a mustard dressing that is so good I want to drink it!

A lemony cannellini bean dip with parsley and paprika (with awesome curry spiced pita chips on the side!)

And two soups: red lentil and yellow split pea.

Another group’s kidney dip was too pretty not to photograph…

The spread was uh-mazing, I can’t wait to try making these recipes at home once my current bean coma has worn off!

One of my classmates, Gabe, brought homemade truffles for dessert that were honestly some of the best truffles I have ever eaten. He made three flavors: chipotle, rosemary (pictured) and plain.

Truffles seem like a very labor-intensive endeavor but I think they would make really cute homemade gifts for the holidays! I can’t believe it’s already the weekend, and a three day one at that. I have a busy yet fun-filled weekend of postponed Valentine’s Day activities ahead of me!

I can see clearly now the (G)rain is gone.

Did everyone have a nice Valentine’s Day? I had a great time at Thai massage with Dan, but I wish Valentine’s Day was on the weekend this year because it was so hard to get up this morning. It should at least be a national holiday, am I right?

So, yesterday’s class was all about grains! It was actually the second day of “Grain Practicum” but it was the first for me since I was out sick on Monday with the stomach flu. Our class was divided into three groups that were each responsible for certain recipes. Within our groups we split up the recipes and I was assigned the polenta. I had never made polenta before and it was so fun! I definitely want to make polenta more often since I am totally hooked on the yellow stuff.

After preparing our polenta, my partner and I cut out fun shapes with cookie cutters. Since it was Valentine’s Day we made sure to make many polenta hearts. Half of our recipe was being baked and the other half fried. Believe it or not I actually think I liked it baked better!

Our class also made baked millet croquettes (which were BOMB!)

Barley and squash stew (it tasted better than it looks!)

Quinoa

and risotto with short grain brown rice instead of arborio.

For me the polenta definitely stole the show! I’m so happy to have been exposed to all these new grains; it has definitely opened my palate up from just brown rice. I now have 3 different types of brown rice, amaranth and millet in my freezer (and I will be getting cornmeal a.s.a.p. to make polenta)! Tomorrow is Bean Day!

Roastin’ and Toastin’ at NGI

Yesterday was our final lesson in basic cooking techniques. We focused on roasting, toasting, baking and broiling. What is the difference between roasting and baking? The truth is, they are basically the same thing but roasting is applied to savory items whereas baking is the appropriate term for sweeter items. Which sounds more appealing, roasted or baked chicken?

We roasted carrots, parsnips, potatoes and shallots…

 

Acorn squash (look how pretty our squash was!)…

Red peppers and garlic to make a roasted salad. (I’d never had roasted garlic before and it is delicious as well as super easy!)…

 

and roasted eggplant to make babaganoush…

To go with toasted pita chips.

We also made baked apples stuffed with chopped raisins, walnuts and cinnamon. Our instructor, Chef Céline told us how her parents were hippies and didn’t let her eat sugar, so her mom would make her baked apples for dessert instead. They were very sweet and definitely satisfied my sweet tooth with no added sugar!

My second week at the Natural Gourmet Institute was even better than my first. I’m so happy to have met all these amazing people and am looking forward to learning even more together in the upcoming months!

YEAH CTP 209!

Culinary School is making me broke.

Why am I going broke?

Because of this.

No not this…

This.

Whole Foods is a magical place where all my dreams have the potential to come true. Unfortunately Whole Foods caters doesn’t cater towards the 99%.

It also doesn’t help that I pass by the food mecca on my way home from class daily.

The Natural Gourmet Institute is definitely influencing my purchases. I’ve been trying to find alternatives for my beloved oatmeal after finding out that rolled oats and oat bran are not whole foods and therefore less nutritious. The past couple of days I’ve had quinoa for breakfast but I wanted to check out other grains so I hit up Whole Foods bulk section.

My bulk purchases for the day were amaranth, azuki beans, nutritional yeast and raisins. I promise I won’t eat them all together (EW!). I love the bulk bins because they are so convenient and cheap but sometimes I worry about how clean they are and how old the products are. I’m soaking the beans right now and they are looking a little wrinkly and aged… I also got some honey and a full-fat greek yogurt to try.

In our morning lecture today we talked more about Basic Quality Ingredients and focused on animal proteins. A lot of the information was a repeat for me because I studied factory farms in depth during my time as an Environmental Studies major at NYU, but I still found it quite interesting (and disturbing). What was really fascinating to me was the information Chef Céline told us about dairy and raw milk. Very few people in this country consume whole milk products (including myself). Chef told us that to make skim milk palatable, powdered milk is added which causes the milk to oxidize and become rancid. Also, modern dairy is pasteurized and homogenized so it no longer contains beneficial enzymes, vitamins and minerals that natural milk does. Class today gave me something to think about; I’m definitely curious about this whole raw milk thing and am taking the first (baby) step by sampling a full-fat yogurt.

My splurge for the day was this Lunch Pot by black + blum. It was $17.99 but I have wanted a lunch box for ages and this one was so appealing with its separate compartments and reusable lime green spork. I’m excited to start using it next week!

Tomorrow is Basic Cook Tech 4 where we will be roastin’ and toastin’! I’m off to go spend the evening with my two main men, see you on the flip side :).